The new kid on the political firmament of India, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has dealt a strong blow to the biggest political party of the World, as its top leaders claim, in the just concluded assembly elections to the city-State of Delhi. The over a century old party the Congress has been blown to smithereens.
This precisely is the emerged scenario. Not AAP’s emphatic victory but BJP’s crushing defeat is what has become centre of the debate internationally. Defeats and victories are part of the electoral process but the circumstances under which BJP has suffered this humiliation has generated more interest.
To begin with Delhi Assembly election defeat is the sixth in a row for the BJP in as many States during the last two years. BJP either lost elections in these States are could not form Government due to reasons such as its allies walking-out resisting the saffron party’s big-brotherly attitude as had happened in Maharashtra.
Delhi electoral debacle ostensibly happened for the BJP at a wrong time. Why so? It happened on the eve of US President, Donald Trump’s much awaited visit to New Delhi. No matter how much brave face Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Government might put up, the defeat more than the AAP’s scintillating victory has grabbed international headlines which has the potential of eroding Modi Government’s painstakingly built image of invincibility.
For a sample let us mull over how some of the leading international media publications and broadcasters saw BJP’s defeat as they mentioned it much more prominently than the AAP’s victory:
The New York Times report headlined ‘In Bitter Delhi Election, Modi’s Party Suffers a Setback’, stated that how “the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned hard on issues of identity, with one minister urging crowds at election rallies to “shoot the traitors,” referring to protesters”.
As it described the Delhi mandate a major setback for the BJP, The report noted how “AAP chief Kejriwal took a page out of the BJP’s playbook, peddling a softer version of Modi’s Hindu nationalism”. Yet another leading newspaper of USA, The Washington Post’s headline read, ‘Stunning defeat for Modi’s party’. The report further elaborated “Saturday’s New Delhi Legislative elections pit Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party against the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party, or “common man’s” party, whose pro-poor policies focused on fixing state-run schools and providing cheap electricity, free health care and bus transport for women during its five years in power,”. It also called the defeat a setback to Modi’s prestige.
A BBC report while eulogising Kejriwal’s “pro-poor” policies described the poll outcome as “a setback for the BJP after last year’s general election landslide”.
Another international newspaper The Guardian described BJP losing Delhi as Modi’s loss. Its report further wrote on the “polarising campaign” of the BJP, “BJP has suffered a major defeat in another key State election, after failing to win over voters in Delhi with a campaign that was one of its most polarising ……”
No matter howsoever strong the expression of bravado is put up by the BJP’s top leaders after the humiliating defeat, the international headlines and the fact that Delhi is the sixth loss in a row for the party should leave them worried and sound the alarm bells. Certainly, it is time for introspection for them with regard to issues such as hyper-nationalism, religious polarisation and above all hi-decibel but unfounded aggression most of the time without any rhyme or reason.
It is interesting to study that while BJP led by its top leaders down to dozens of spokespersons harped on aggressively proclaiming victory even in the defeat through increased percentage of votes, which made them look comic, Kejriwal quietly slipped into a silent mode. He refused to be dragged into the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) and National Population Register (NPR) and in the process maintained a distance from Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh near Jamia Milia Islamia University which has become a centre of protests against these legislations.
On the contrary BJP went ballistic by the day on these issues with its ministers and MPs using the most explicit language and slogans obliquely targeting the Muslim community. Kejriwal despite his very short stint in politics is known more for his politics of confrontation and aggressive campaigning but somehow he strategically switched the gears. While BJP’s unnecessary aggression particularly the objectionable narratives built by its leaders led to the Delhites moving away from the party, seethed with anger and frustration. With a non-existent Congress, majority of these voters cutting across religion, caste, creed and class voted for AAP. It is reflective in the AAP’s landslide victory which was made possible only with the support of all sections of the society.
It seems unlikely that BJP leadership would immediately change their political strategies or drop aggressive posturing and strong pro-Hindutava agenda though it has somehow stopped paying electoral dividend as is evident in the state assembly elections. But Delhi Assembly results would definitely rankle them whether it is reflected in their public behaviour or not, it is another matter.
After series of defeats in assembly elections the unitary or presidential model being followed by the BJP, both in the matter of governance and running the party, seems to be fast losing its efficacy. The mess in which Delhi BJP’s organisational set up has been for the past sometime is a perfect case study on how this model has negatively impacted the party. Imagine the party could not put up a Chief Ministerial candidate against formidable Kejriwal. It happened primarily as a result of the unitary system approach and also the fact that all local leaders, established and young, have been systematically sidelined again as an outcome of the unitary system.
The Congress is in a mess mainly due to this model which it had followed over the decades resulting in making it a personality-centric organisation rather than the one based on the principle of decentralisation of power. Again, Delhi presented a perfect model even for the Congress high command to study and reform though it is already too late for them.
For BJP it is time to decide whether it wants to go the Congress way, organisationally, by relying heavily on Modi’s persona or revert back to the BJP of Vajpayee-Advani era where second and third rung leaders were groomed and trusted. For Congress it is the decisive moment. Start taking harsh and hard decisions or perish.